Coptic Winter: Democracy in Name Only

Chuck Colson

Coptic Winter: Democracy in Name Only

On October 9, at least two dozen Christians were killed by Egyptian police. Their only “crime” was in insisting that they be treated in a manner consistent with what the “Arab Spring” was supposed to be about.

It’s getting clearer that for parts of the Arab world, it’s going to be a long, cold winter.

The killings happened during a march organized by Coptic leaders to protest a church-burning by Islamists. The military regime responded lackadaisically to this outrage, just as it has to other outrages perpetrated against Egypt’s Christian minority.

The junta’s response to peaceful protest was a combination of tear gas, live ammunition and armored vehicles ramming into the crowd. A few protesters threw rocks in response to the attacks, which gave state-controlled media a chance to claim that protestors started the violence and urge “honorable” -- that is, Muslim -- Egyptians to help the soldiers.

While I expect that kind of deception from Egyptian state-run media, I am appalled by the New York Times’ characterization of the killings as “sectarian violence.” For the Times, Christians are only victims if they endure violence without uttering the merest peep in protest. If they protest or try to defend themselves, however feebly, the Times paints them as the moral equivalent of their persecutors.

The situation in Egypt has become so dire that one Coptic bishop compares it to a “dark tunnel of violence.” Quoting the apostle Paul, he writes that he and his flock are “hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed ... perplexed but not lost, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed."

While they pray for the victims and the offenders, it’s our task to make sure they are not forsaken, which is what all the euphoria over the Arab Spring threatens to do.

Lost in the buzz over democracy on Twitter and Facebook was any recognition that ousting dictators and establishing democracy are means, not ends. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you replace the rule of dictators with popular rule if, in the end, Christians and other minorities become targets for persecution and violence.

Our founding fathers, when they set out to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility ... [and] promote the general welfare,” knew the dangers of an unchecked majority. That’s why our Constitution is filled with checks and balances — between the people and the government, and between branches of government.

The Arab Spring has not resulted in greater justice and increased tranquility for Middle Eastern Christians. As John L. Allen wrote in the National Catholic Reporter, “many analysts wonder whether Christianity will be the first victim of the new order taking shape” in the Middle East.

There’s no reason, as writer Rod Dreher reminds us, to assume that democracy and religious tolerance go hand-in-hand. On the contrary, recent history suggests that what the “people” often want is to mistreat the “others” in their midst.

Now, there is little standing between them and what they want. If Christians resist, they are run over by armored vehicles and blamed for their fate. While God has not forsaken them, the world that cheered on the Arab crowds last spring seems intent on doing so.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.

Publication date: October 24, 2011

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